Bilbies are the only extant member of Thylacomyidae in the order Peramelemorphia, though their taxonomy has changed over the years.

Bilbies are the only extant member of Thylacomyidae in the order Peramelemorphia after yallaras, or lesser bilbies (Macrotis leucura) became extinct. The placement of bilbies within the Peramelemorphia order has changed in recent years. Vaughan (1978) and Groves and Flannery (1990) both placed this family within the family Peramelidae, but Kirsch et al. (1997) found them to be distinct from the species in Peroryctidae (which is now a subfamily in Peramelidae). McKenna and Bell (1997) also placed it in Peramelidae, but as the sister of Chaeropus in the subfamily Chaeropodinae.

A scientific description of the bilby was first published in 1837 by Mr. J. Reid. Reid based his description on a specimen that he erroneously stated to have come from Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), where the species has not occurred in historical times. As all bandicoot species were then placed in a broadly circumscribed Perameles, Reid placed the bilby there too. However, noticing how different it was from other members of the genus, he noted that if more species were discovered to be similar to the bilby, the characteristics would constitute a subgenus to which he suggested the name Macrotis. The specific epithet lagotis was chosen from its resemblance to the rabbit, the lagomorph.

The following year, Richard Owen proposed to the Zoological Society of London to erect a new genus for this species, Thylacomys. This name was widely adopted and remained in use for many years until B. Arthur Bensley erected a subfamily to hold the genus in 1903, Thylacomyinae. This name remains valid, and has since been promoted to family rank as Thylacomyidae. Thylacomys, itself, is no longer considered valid, as Reid’s original paper is held to have established the generic name Macrotis. Thus, the currently accepted scientific name for the bilby is Macrotis lagotis.

Image | ©️ Biodiversity Heritage Library, Public Domain,
Sources | (Abbott, 2001; Bensley, 1903; Burbidge & Woinarski, 2016; Commonwealth of Australia, 2010, 2015; Environment Australia, 2004; Groves, 2005; Groves & Flannery, 1990; Hintze, 2002; Owens, 1838; Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, 1998; Pavey, 2006; Reid, 1837; Southgate, 1990; The Wikimedia Foundation, 2021; Yokose, 2001)

Learn More About the Bilby


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